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Woodstock, Salt River residents to tackle gentrification

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Woodstock and Salt River residents are growing frustrated with the increase in new commercial developments in the area and are now mobilizing to fight ruthless property developers. Amid increased concerns around gentrification in the city centre, a group of residents under the banner of Reclaim The City have called for a public meeting on Saturday. Many residents are objecting to gentrification and urban regeneration, which they say is affecting the working class.

The meeting comes as Bo-kaap residents take up the same fight against property developers. Despite 1000 objections from residents, this week the City of Cape Town’s Municipal Planning Tribunal gave the green light for the construction of a R1 billion, 60m-high apartment and retail complex on the fringes of the historic area. Like the Bokaap community,  residents in Woodstock and Salt River have also seen property prices, rentals and rates increase dramatically over the past ten tears.

Daneel Knoetze from Reclaim the City says gentifrication is only serving the interests of the wealthy elite.

“Gentrification means the removal of poor families and communities and the capture of land and housing by wealthy developers. People are using nefarious tactics to evict and remove families from this area,” he explains.

“The Woodstock and Salt River community needs to come together to resist this trend. We need to say the removal of poor families is unacceptable. It’s a tactic used during apartheid and it has to stop. We need to mobilise together to ensure that there’s a change in our communities or our people will continuously be pushed out to the Cape Flats in much the same as it was done in apartheid.”

Reclaim The City is a campaign for affordable housing in and around the city centre. Activists believe strongly that to reverse the segregation policies of apartheid, they need to protect affordable housing in the CBD.

Woodstock, once a hotspot for drugs, gang and prostitution has been largely cleaned up over the years, as a part of a broader urban re-generation project. Woodstock is now a cosmopolitan and vibrant hub for restaurants, coffee shops, designer clothing stores and art galleries, becoming the hangout of the artsy, trendy crowd. But the changing face of Woodstock has not benefited the people, argues Knoetze.

“When we talk about urban regeneration and the upliftment of a community and their improved safety, for many working class people, they haven’t felt the benefits of economic upliftment. This is because many resident can’t find employment and they are not safe,” he says.

“Their safety and security is threatened daily under the threat of eviction and removal to areas where poverty and crime out completely out of control, at a level where

Woodstock has never experienced. When we look at the positive improvements to Woodstock, our question must be, who does it benefit and does it include the original community? That has unequivocally not been the case in Woodstock.”

Knoetze says they are also concerned about the plight of the immigrant community, “an integral part of the business and cultural life of Woodstock”.

“We feel it’s important that we create a space for everybody that faces the challenges of poor living conditions, abuses of their landlords and the over crowdedness. The immigrant community is important as there is the potential for xenophobia to divide the working class and our society as a whole.”

The campaign is being supported by the Housing Assembly and will draw on the experiences of residents in Albert Street, Bromwell street, Pine Road informal settlement and Onder Die Brug, a settlement close to Salt River train station.

“We are also fighting for better and improved services for low income families that have been living in dismal conditions in our community. We need to support their right to stay in Woodstock and Salt River as much as we support people living in formal housing,” Knoetze adds.

This is the first public meeting, in which residents will be asked to share their experiences in an open forum. A follow-up meeting will be held to mobilise residents to work on a sustainable campaign against gentrification.

The meeting takes place on Saturday 11 June at Blackpool Hall in Shelley Street, Salt River at 12pm. VOC

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